Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, known also as Hellas, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of 2018; Athens, the nation's capital, is its largest city, followed by Thessaloniki.
Situated on the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, Greece is located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, North Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, the Cretan Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Basin and the 11th longest coastline in the world at in length, featuring many islands, of which 227 are inhabited. Eighty percent of Greece is mountainous, with Mount Olympus being the highest peak at. The country consists of nine traditional geographic regions: Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands, Thrace, Crete, and the Ionian Islands.
Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, Western drama and the Olympic Games. From the eighth century B.C., the Greeks were organised into various independent city-states, known as poleis, which spanned the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Philip of Macedon united most of present-day Greece in the fourth century B.C., with his son Alexander the Great rapidly conquering much of the ancient world, from the eastern Mediterranean to India. The subsequent Hellenistic period saw the height of Greek culture and influence in antiquity. Greece was annexed by Rome in the second century B.C., becoming an integral part of the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine Empire, which adopted the Greek language and culture. The Greek Orthodox Church, which emerged in the first century A.D., helped shape modern Greek identity and transmitted Greek traditions to the wider Orthodox world. After falling under Ottoman dominion in the mid-15th century, Greece emerged as a modern nation state in 1830 following a war of independence. The country's rich historical legacy is reflected in part by its 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Greece is a unitary parliamentary republic and developed country with an advanced high-income economy, a high quality of life, and a very high standard of living. Its economy is the largest in the Balkans, where it is an important regional investor. A founding member of the United Nations, Greece was the tenth member to join the European Communities and has been part of the Eurozone since 2001. It is also a member of numerous other international institutions, including the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organization, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Greece's unique cultural heritage, large tourism industry, prominent shipping sector and geostrategic importance classify it as a middle power.
NameThe native name of the country in Modern Greek is Ελλάδα. The corresponding form in Ancient Greek and conservative formal Modern Greek is Ἑλλάς. This is the source of the English alternate name Hellas, which is mostly found in archaic or poetic contexts today. The Greek adjectival form ελληνικός is sometimes also translated as Hellenic and is often rendered in this way in the formal names of Greek institutions, as in the official name of the Greek state, the Hellenic Republic.
The English names Greece and Greek are derived, via the Latin Graecia and Graecus, from the name of the Graeci, who were among the first ancient Greek tribes to settle Magna Graecia in southern Italy. The term is ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European root , "to grow old".
Prehistory and early historyin Mycenae
The earliest evidence of the presence of human ancestors in the southern Balkans, dated to 270,000 BC, is to be found in the Petralona cave, in the Greek province of Macedonia. The Apidima Cave in Mani, in southern Greece, contains the oldest remains of anatomically modern humans outside of Africa, dated to 210,000 years ago. All three stages of the Stone Age are represented in Greece, for example in the Franchthi Cave. Neolithic settlements in Greece, dating from the 7th millennium BC, are the oldest in Europe by several centuries, as Greece lies on the route via which farming spread from the Near East to Europe.
displaying the Minoan ritual of "bull leaping", found in Knossos
Greece is home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe and is considered the birthplace of Western civilisation, beginning with the Cycladic civilization on the islands of the Aegean Sea at around 3200 BC, the Minoan civilization in Crete, and then the Mycenaean civilization on the mainland. These civilizations possessed writing, the Minoans using an undeciphered script known as Linear A, and the Mycenaeans writing the earliest attested form of Greek in Linear B. The Mycenaeans gradually absorbed the Minoans, but collapsed violently around 1200 BC, along with other civilizations, during the regional event known as the Bronze Age collapse. This ushered in a period known as the Greek Dark Ages, from which written records are absent. Though the unearthed Linear B texts are too fragmentary for the reconstruction of the political landscape and can't support the existence of a larger state, contemporary Hittite and Egyptian records suggest the presence of a single state under a "Great King" based in mainland Greece.
Archaic and Classical periodThe end of the Dark Ages is traditionally dated to 776 BC, the year of the first Olympic Games. The Iliad and the Odyssey, the foundational texts of Western literature, are believed to have been composed by Homer in the 7th or 8th centuries BC. With the end of the Dark Ages, there emerged various kingdoms and city-states across the Greek peninsula, which spread to the shores of the Black Sea, Southern Italy and Asia Minor. These states and their colonies reached great levels of prosperity that resulted in an unprecedented cultural boom, that of classical Greece, expressed in architecture, drama, science, mathematics and philosophy. In 508 BC, Cleisthenes instituted the world's first democratic system of government in Athens.
on the Acropolis of Athens, emblem of classical Greece.
By 500 BC, the Persian Empire controlled the Greek city states in Asia Minor and Macedonia. Attempts by some of the Greek city-states of Asia Minor to overthrow Persian rule failed, and Persia invaded the states of mainland Greece in 492 BC, but was forced to withdraw after a defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. In response, the Greek city-states formed the Hellenic League in 481 BC, led by Sparta, which was the first historically recorded union of Greek states since the mythical union of the Trojan War. A second invasion by the Persians followed in 480 BC. Following decisive Greek victories in 480 and 479 BC at Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale, the Persians were forced to withdraw for a second time, marking their eventual withdrawal from all of their European territories. Led by Athens and Sparta, the Greek victories in the Greco-Persian Wars are considered a pivotal moment in world history, as the 50 years of peace that followed are known as the Golden Age of Athens, the seminal period of ancient Greek development that laid many of the foundations of Western civilization.
, whose conquests led to the Hellenistic Age.
Lack of political unity within Greece resulted in frequent conflict between Greek states. The most devastating intra-Greek war was the Peloponnesian War, won by Sparta and marking the demise of the Athenian Empire as the leading power in ancient Greece. Both Athens and Sparta were later overshadowed by Thebes and eventually Macedon, with the latter uniting most of the city-states of the Greek hinterland in the League of Corinth under the control of Phillip II. Despite this development, the Greek world remained largely fragmented and would not be united under a single power until the Roman years. Sparta did not join the League and actively fought against it, raising an army led by Agis III to secure the city-states of Crete for Persia.
Following the assassination of Phillip II, his son Alexander III assumed the leadership of the League of Corinth and launched an invasion of the Persian Empire with the combined forces of the League in 334 BC. Undefeated in battle, Alexander had conquered the Persian Empire in its entirety by 330 BC. By the time of his death in 323 BC, he had created one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Greece to India. Upon his death, his empire split into several kingdoms, the most famous of which were the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemaic Egypt, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and the Indo-Greek Kingdom. Many Greeks migrated to Alexandria, Antioch, Seleucia, and the many other new Hellenistic cities in Asia and Africa. Although the political unity of Alexander's empire could not be maintained, it resulted in the Hellenistic civilization and spread the Greek language and Greek culture in the territories conquered by Alexander. Greek science, technology, and mathematics are generally considered to have reached their peak during the Hellenistic period.
Hellenistic and Roman periodsis considered to be the first known mechanical analog computer.
After a period of confusion following Alexander's death, the Antigonid dynasty, descended from one of Alexander's generals, established its control over Macedon and most of the Greek city-states by 276 BC. From about 200 BC the Roman Republic became increasingly involved in Greek affairs and engaged in a series of wars with Macedon. Macedon's defeat at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC signalled the end of Antigonid power in Greece. In 146 BC, Macedonia was annexed as a province by Rome, and the rest of Greece became a Roman protectorate.
The process was completed in 27 BC when the Roman Emperor Augustus annexed the rest of Greece and constituted it as the senatorial province of Achaea. Despite their military superiority, the Romans admired and became heavily influenced by the achievements of Greek culture, hence Horace's famous statement: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit''. The epics of Homer inspired the Aeneid of Virgil, and authors such as Seneca the younger wrote using Greek styles. Roman heroes such as Scipio Africanus, tended to study philosophy and regarded Greek culture and science as an example to be followed. Similarly, most Roman emperors maintained an admiration for things Greek in nature. The Roman Emperor Nero visited Greece in AD 66, and performed at the Ancient Olympic Games, despite the rules against non-Greek participation. Hadrian was also particularly fond of the Greeks. Before becoming emperor, he served as an eponymous archon of Athens.
in Athens, built in 161 AD
Greek-speaking communities of the Hellenised East were instrumental in the spread of early Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and Christianity's early leaders and writers were mostly Greek-speaking, though generally not from Greece itself. The New Testament was written in Greek, and some of its sections attest to the importance of churches in Greece in early Christianity. Nevertheless, much of Greece clung tenaciously to paganism, and ancient Greek religious practices were still in vogue in the late 4th century AD, when they were outlawed by the Roman emperor Theodosius I in 391–392. The last recorded Olympic games were held in 393, and many temples were destroyed or damaged in the century that followed. In Athens and rural areas, paganism is attested well into the sixth century AD and even later. The closure of the Neoplatonic Academy of Athens by the Emperor Justinian in 529 is considered by many to mark the end of antiquity, although there is evidence that the Academy continued its activities for some time after that. Some remote areas such as the southeastern Peloponnese remained pagan until well into the 10th century AD.